By Adya Agarwal Gupta

 Avana Aksoy was a young, composed and handsome girl. She was intelligent, and knew how to engage with different people in conversation. Through all the conversations she had heard, Avana figured out her father’s goals and plans. Her father was the chief of their village in Turkey, but he thought Avana too young to comprehend his plans. Therefore, inquisitive Avana was forced to figure it out by herself.

“You’re making a road through the cave people’s habitat?” Avana asked her father one evening, full of disbelief. Avana thought that the cave people lived a peaceful life and had never disturbed anyone. It wasn’t right of her father to disturb their peace and break the unspoken treaty between her people and theirs. The chief turned to her and frowned. He was surprised that his daughter knew.

“Well, yes. It is time. We are isolated and there’s no business here. We have no choice. The road will connect us to the city and it means that we can hope to build a future. It has to be done.” He responded. In his mind, it was completely fair for him to take this step. It was a small village that was struggling to make enough for its people anymore. He thought that as chief of the village, it was his job to make the tough decisions. Yes, he was breaking a tradition of leaving the cave people to their own ways. But he had tried to reason with them and even offered them alternative land. But it was their fault for being so stubborn. As chief, he was responsible of keeping the village alive and happy.

“You won’t understand.” He mumbled, as he led his guests into a different room. Avana frowned at her father’s words.

Avana sighed. She pulled her knees up to her face and soon slept off soundly. The windows were shut tight, but not locked. Avana liked the gust of wind that came through. However, fourteen-year-old Avana didn’t realize that this pleasure would lead her away from home.

From behind the window, a twig cracked. Avana turned, still asleep. Footsteps and urgent whispers were heard outside the window. Three people, blending into the darkness, were watching Avana. Their large eyes stared at her. The woman adjusted her long, thick hair and pushed the window open. Immediately, a gust of icy air burst through. Avana smiled in her sleep. The woman helped Avana up carefully. Avana was easily awakened and looked in shock at the woman. She tried desperately to wriggle free, as the woman looked at her sadly. With an herb in her hand, she wrapped a napkin around Avana’s mouth, making her sleep instantly. Avana slept soundly in the lady’s arms as they all slipped away into the darkness. They only left one note behind, indicating where Avana was and a big threat to the chief. Avana only dreamt and hoped it was a nightmare.

When Avana woke up eventually, she looked around, and realized that this wasn’t her home. There were stonewalls all around her! Backing away from the walls, Avana rubbed her eyes. Was she caught in an illusion? From another corner, Avana heard footsteps. This was exactly like all the horror books she had read! But, it was no illusion. Two cave women walked to her steadily as she tried to run. Questions raced across Avana’s mind. Why was she there? Suddenly, Avana recognized one of the ladies who had carried her away. She couldn’t remember much after that, but knew that she had been brought here against her will.

“You’ll be going home soon. Let your father give in first. Don’t be scared, dear. Come.” One of the ladies explained, leading Avana into a central room.

“Why am I here?” Avana nervously asked, wriggling away from the ladies. She knew that it was because of her father’s decision to build the road. But, she didn’t know how she had been unwillingly placed in the middle of this. Her anxiousness led her so astray that she didn’t notice the mighty man coming towards her. He looked fierce. This man seemed to be their leader. But, instead of hurting her, he only patted Avana’s hand gently.

“Don’t be scared. Please don’t. You are here until your father agrees to stop his work and keep to our ancestral promise of letting us live peacefully in our home as we have for centuries now. I’m sorry you had to come. This is not lavish, like your home, but you will be looked after well.” Despite her fear, Avana started to understand two things. She knew why she was here: as ransom to her father. And, that these cave people may look vicious and rough, but were kind-hearted.

She sat in a corner timidly. Avana began missing her parents. Surely her father would come for her. Despite their leaders reassurance, she didn’t know how the cave-people would treat her. The cave-people too thought that her father would come for her. She was only a very young soul, who did not deserve to be put in the middle. ‘The girl’ was their responsibility and they had to keep her healthy.

She had been living with the cave-people for two days now. She had been observing them closely and tried to learn the ways of these kind-hearted people. The ways of the cave-people was gentle. These cave-people knew that the young girl who had arrived was troubled. Avana started to build a touching relationship with all the cave women. She was mesmerized by their grace, the skill of intricate designs they made on their walls and their unique technique of traditional underground cooking. Avana had never cooked a meal or painted walls before. But, now, she did it with the seven other children. They were enough company for her. She would watch in awe as they weaved their magic on the walls. She had learnt that each pattern was part of a prayer or a religious story. The women explained the wonderful stories of their ancestors and showed her how to make colours from dried flowers. It was ever so simple, but Avana admired their teamwork and their ancient, natural knowledge. She wondered why she had never known any of this in spite of living so close to them.

Although safe, Avana started to wonder when her father would come. And when another couple of days went by, she started to worry – would it actually ever happen? Avana thought about this dolefully as she fell asleep. She awoke to the hushed but unmistakable voice of Ahmet (the leader). He was talking with the other cave-people. They were talking about how to help Avana.

“He has not come for her! I received a message to say he cannot put his own interest over that of the village. But, if he will not agree, we have no right to keep her. She has to return to her loved ones. We only took her since we thought it would bring peace to the society. It must pain her to not be with her family. We have to send her back, I’m sorry!” Ahmet said, his voice soft and sad. All hope was lost for the cave-people.

But, upon hearing these words, Avana was hurt. She was hurt that her father had not come for her. And she was hurt that the cave-people community would not be saved. She knew now how disorienting it was to stay away from one’s home. Avana knew that the whole community of cave-people and their children should not have to face the same unpleasant feeling. Even if they were offered land, it would never be their home! They would have to live above the land, like the rest of the villagers and that would be the end of their culture, their ways and their people. Thinking about this, Avana’s stomach turned. She sat down in the corner. She watched the cave-people disperse to work and felt their hopelessness. These people had kidnapped her, but they had made her feel most comfortable! Tears rushed to Avana’s eyes, but she swallowed them down. How she wished she could do something for them!

It was the start of a long day of thinking for her. She resolved to certainly not let the cave-people suffer due to her father. Avana would help them. The question was how!

“It’s a shame to let such a unique culture die out. The world will never know!” Avana found herself muttering. Then something just clicked. She laughed at her words, and played them over in her head.

Unique Culture. The World. Know.

“Their unique culture. The World will know!” Avana shouted out, louder and happier this time. The cave-people all stopped their work and looked at her questioningly. Gulping, Avana sat down once again. She thought about her idea. There would be a cultural tour! It would make business and money. It would bring more tourists, but keep the lively culture of the cave-people alive. Avana asked to see Ahmet and tried to explain her idea as elaborately as possible. She had often seen her father convince the elders of the village. Today she used some of the skills she had observed over the years to convince this group of hopeful people. The cave-people looked at her in disbelief, as she skillfully explained her idea. Ahmet’s applaud was the loudest amongst the others. Ahmet grinned, lifting Avana in his arms. Embarrassed immediately, he put her back down. Avana laughed. She was finally relieved. It had been done! But, a thought popped into her head and lines formed on her forehead. She hoped her father would agree. Had she given hope to these gentle people too early? She prayed she would not cause them more grief.

 Ahmet directed his wife, Selina, to help Avana return to the village. Avana hugged Ahmet, thankful for all the care he had taken of her. Selina and Avana walked out into the distance.

 As they left, Ahmet and the other cave-people sighed and hoped that destiny would permit them to meet with her once again. This time, they hoped it would be a meeting of peace.

 As Avana and Selina walked, Avana rubbed her ears. Suddenly, in the distance, she heard the indubitable stutter of a motorbike engine. Avana rested one hand on Selina’s shoulder, telling her to wait. That sound was ever so familiar! It was her father’s motorbike! That was unmistakable. But, Avana saw many familiar men from the village roaming the space. Her father, was only there to start the work on the road! Avana hurriedly walked up to him.

 When he realized it was Avana, he smothered her with embraces and affection.

“Avana! My Avana!” He cried, holding back tears of joy as he explained that he was torn. That he had a duty to put the interest of the village over his and had to make the tough decision to leave Avana to the better sense of the cave people and hope they returned her unharmed. He could not negotiate. The road meant better business; it couldn’t be terminated.

 It was then that Avana decided to speak up.

“Pa, I had an idea for the business.” Avana exclaimed, as she went on hesitantly, nervously explaining her idea. “I don’t feel it’s right to destroy the cave people’s way of life. I know this means business for the village, but the cave people have not disturbed us. What if I told you that Ahmet and his people are willing to do business with you? What if I told you that they are willing to invite people, tourists Pa, into their homes and give them a glimpse of their unique culture and generous hospitality? We can turn their unique culture into an experience that can benefit all. The cave people can save their way of life, the world can learn from their ways and we can all make money and preserve our culture this way.” Avana finished and then pursed her lips. Worries once again formed in her mind.

 Her father looked down at her strangely, and then looked at Selina for confirmation and consent. Had they really agreed to this? Seeing Selina’s response, he laughed. What hadn’t he thought of this before! He picked Avana up joyously like Ahmet had.

 The chief returned back to his village, presenting Avana in front of everyone proudly. She was asked to explain her idea in front of the whole village, taking a risk. Her personality was shy and she didn’t want to make a mistake but she spoke bravely. The matter was soon settled. Miraculously when nearly all hope was lost, they had reached a deal between the cave people and the villagers. Avana’s father showed his repentance for his earlier aggression, and sold his very own, only motorbike to make enough money to purchase the very first minibus of the Cave People’s Cultural Tours. With that, Avana, the cave-people and her father started a most successful business. To this day, tourists who visit Turkey, make it a point to visit the Cave People who proudly show their homes and their unique way of life. And it all started because in the midst of all the darkness, a fourteen-year-old had a flash of light in the cave.